Durango man found guilty of hitting pedestrians while driving drunk

Jury deliberated four hours before reaching verdicts

A Durango man was found guilty Friday of mowing down two pedestrians while driving drunk last year in downtown Durango.

Cruz Baca, 39, showed little reaction to the guilty verdicts; his attorney patted him on the back. Sentencing is set for 11 a.m. Aug. 25.

Jurors deliberated about four hours before returning guilty verdicts on vehicular assault while driving drunk, leaving the scene of an accident, careless driving and misdemeanor assault. He was found not guilty on two counts of failure to yield to pedestrians.

He faces probation, a community corrections sentence or up to six years in prison on the most serious charge. The five-day jury trial overseen by Judge William Herringer started Monday in 6th Judicial District Court in Durango.

Seven women and seven men served on the jury, including two alternates. Baca declined to testify in his own defense.

Baca was driving west on College Drive about 2:10 a.m. Oct. 16 when he struck two pedestrians in a crosswalk at East Second Avenue. Instead of stopping, he kept driving until he reached his house at 1208 Avenida del Sol.

Darby Hamer and Alan “Damon” Balfour were crossing College Drive, from north to south, when the pickup hit them, according to witnesses. Baca did not hit the brakes before impact, and he kept driving west on College Drive, turning right on Main Avenue or Camino del Rio.

Hamer suffered a fractured pelvis and a gash to her forehead that required 10 stitches. Balfour suffered road rash to his back and a knee injury.

Witnesses provided a vehicle description and partial license plate number of the pickup. Dispatchers ran the partial license plate number and found a possible match for a 2001 gold Toyota Tundra belonging to Baca.

Police went to Baca’s house and found the Toyota Tundra with front-end damage in the parking lot. A piece of headlight casing found at the crash scene matched a piece missing from Baca’s truck. They also found a smeared hand print on the hood of the truck, a mirror that was pushed in and dust removed around the area of damage, as if it had been wiped clean.

Police knocked on Baca’s apartment door for several minutes until he answered. Baca had blood-shot eyes and an odor of alcohol on his breath. He denied hitting pedestrians on his way home from Eighth Avenue Tavern.

During an interview with police, Baca on five occasions denied hitting pedestrians. But during his four-day trial, his Durango lawyer, Katie Whitney, conceded Baca hit the pedestrians. But she argued he wasn’t over the legal limit for drunken driving – or at least there wasn’t enough evidence to prove it.

It was about 1½ hours between the time of the crash and when police made contact with Baca.

Whitney said Baca panicked after hitting the pedestrians, drove home and started drinking. Police “assumed” he was intoxicated at the time of the crash.

Deputy District Attorney Sean Murray said all the evidence leading up to the crash suggests Baca was too intoxicated to drive:

A receipt shows he purchased five beers and two shots, from about 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., at Eighth Avenue Tavern. Baca’s defense lawyer said he bought beers and shots for friends at the bar.A friend testified she offered Baca a ride home, because he had the “wibble wobbles,” meaning he was swaying.He failed to see eight to 10 people in the crosswalk. Baca will remain free on bail pending sentencing.

shane@durangoherald.com

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